PC Reliability on the Upswing

In a PC reliability report from Gartner, the firm says that manufacturers can still improve their desktops and particularly their notebook PCs.

According to a new report by Gartner, PC manufacturers have cut annual failure rates on their desktop and notebook PCs by about 25 percent over the past two years.

But PC reliability—the main enemies are motherboards and hard drives—could still be improved in some areas, especially for notebooks, the Stamford, Conn., firm said in the report.

The average failure rates for machines purchased between 2005 and 2006 are 15 percent in the first year of ownership and are projected to average 22 percent in year four.

Those numbers compare favorably to average failure rates of 20 percent in the first year and 28 percent in year four for notebooks purchased between 2003 and 2004, the report said.

Desktops purchased in 2005 and 2006 averaged a 5 percent failure rate in year one and are projected to have 12 percent failure rate in year four. Desktop machines purchased in 2003 and 2004 saw rates of 7 percent in year one and 15 percent in year four.

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Failures often happen immediately, with systems going through a shakedown period, and then level off after 60-90 days, Gartner said in the report.

But the firm, which defines a failure as any repair that requires a hardware component to be replaced, pointed out some areas that could be improved.

While a failure could be as simple as a broken notebook latch, the firm reports the most common failures are motherboards, the main circuit board in a computer, and hard drives for both notebooks and desktops.

Component integration, used to cut costs, has played a role in increasing motherboard faults, Gartner said. Many components that were once discrete items—and therefore able to be replaced separately from the motherboard—have been integrated into PC chip sets, which handle moving data inside a PC.

The chip sets are soldered to a board. The situation often forces an entire motherboard to be replaced to solve an issue with a single individual component.

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Notebooks have much higher annual failure rates and more moving parts than desktops. Notebooks risk latch, keyboard and screen failures, for example.

Yet through better notebook designs, manufacturers have improved on screen failures, which was once the largest source of problems for notebooks, Gartner said.

The firm recommended that IT managers track their companys PC failures closely to help spot problems and also to help hold their PC suppliers accountable.

Gartner also advised IT managers to do their homework and check out a PC makers quality assurance program as well as its tech support before signing a contract.

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